"Art or Propaganda?" - a comparison between Alain Locke and W.E.B.Dubois

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1. Introduction.

W.E.B. Dubois and Alain Locke were important contributors to the epoch called "Harlem Renaissance". With their writings atrists wanted to do something against racism, they wanted to show that the African - Americans don't have to feel inferior.

Writing in the April, 1915, issue of Crisis, DuBois said: "In art and literature we should try to loose the tremendous emotional wealth of the Negro and the dramatic strength of his problems through writing ... and other forms of art. We should resurrect forgotten ancient Negro art and history, and we should set the black man before the world as both a creative artist and a strong subject for artistic treatment."

DuBois stated what were to be recurrent themes of the decade of the twenties: the Negro as a producer and a subject of art, and the Negro's artistic output as indices of his contribution to American life. (Linnemann R.J. p 79)

In essense, both Locke and DuBois agreed about what constituted good art. It was the function of art on which they did not agree. DuBois doubted if one could really have a disembodied art or beauty; but Locke was not seeking for the Negro writer a disembodied beauty. (Linnemann, R.J. p 92)

DuBois strongly disagreed with Locke's view that "Beauty rather than Propaganda should be the object of Negro literature and art. ...If Mr. Locke's thesis is insisted upon too much is going to turn the Negro Renaissance into decadence." (Marable, M.. p 130)

First I will give some basical facts about the Harlem Renaissance. In the main part I will show the opinions of A. Locke, who preferred arts, and W.E.B. DuBois, who was for propaganda. In point three I will write about DuBois's life. After that I will show what he wanted in general. The last part of point three I will show why he was for propaganda. Therefore I analysed several of his works, especially his paper "Criteria of Negro art".

In point four I will introduce Alain Locke with a short biography and then I will show what he wanted for the African - Americans. The second part of point four will show why he preferred art. My focus will be on his anthology "The New Negro" and his article "Art or Propaganda?".

Basically there were thoughts which DuBois and Locke shared. One example is the idea of education which will play a role in point five. In point six I will give a short summary.

2. The Harlem Renaissance

In the early 1900s, particularly in the 1920s, African-American literature, art, music, dance, and social commentary began to flourish in Harlem, a section of New York City. This African-American cultural movement became known as "The New Negro Movement" and later as the Harlem Renaissance. More than a literary movement, the Harlem Renaissance exalted the unique culture of African-Americans and redefined African-American expression. African-Americans were encouraged to celebrate their heritage. (Johnson, W.)

One of the factors contributing to the rise of the Harlem Renaissance was the great migration of African-Americans to northern cities (such as New York City, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.) between 1919 and 1926. In his influential book The New Negro (1925), Locke described the northward migration of blacks as "something like a spiritual emancipation." Black urban migration, combined with trends in American society as a whole toward experimentation during the 1920s, and the rise of radical black intellectuals -- including Locke, Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), and W. E. B. DuBois, editor of The Crisis magazine - all contributed to the particular styles and unprecedented success of black artists during the Harlem Renaissance period.


More than a literary movement and more than a social revolt against racism, the Harlem Renaissance exalted the unique culture of African-Americans and redefined African-American expression. African-Americans were encouraged to celebrate their heritage...
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